While Israel was camped beside the Jordan on the plains of Moab across from Jericho, the LORD said to Moses,
“Command the people of Israel to give to the Levites from their property certain towns to live in, along with the surrounding pasturelands.
These towns will be for the Levites to live in, and the surrounding lands will provide pasture for their cattle, flocks, and other livestock.
The pastureland assigned to the Levites around these towns will extend 1,500 feet from the town walls in every direction.
Measure off 3,000 feet outside the town walls in every direction—east, south, west, north—with the town at the center. This area will serve as the larger pastureland for the towns.
“Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, where a person who has accidentally killed someone can flee for safety. In addition, give them forty-two other towns.
In all, forty-eight towns with the surrounding pastureland will be given to the Levites.
These towns will come from the property of the people of Israel. The larger tribes will give more towns to the Levites, while the smaller tribes will give fewer. Each tribe will give property in proportion to the size of its land.”
The LORD said to Moses,
“Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. “When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan,
designate cities of refuge to which people can flee if they have killed someone accidentally.
These cities will be places of protection from a dead person’s relatives who want to avenge the death. The slayer must not be put to death before being tried by the community.
Designate six cities of refuge for yourselves,
three on the east side of the Jordan River and three on the west in the land of Canaan.
These cities are for the protection of Israelites, foreigners living among you, and traveling merchants. Anyone who accidentally kills someone may flee there for safety.
“But if someone strikes and kills another person with a piece of iron, it is murder, and the murderer must be executed.
Or if someone with a stone in his hand strikes and kills another person, it is murder, and the murderer must be put to death.
Or if someone strikes and kills another person with a wooden object, it is murder, and the murderer must be put to death.
The victim’s nearest relative is responsible for putting the murderer to death. When they meet, the avenger must put the murderer to death.
So if someone hates another person and waits in ambush, then pushes him or throws something at him and he dies, it is murder.
Or if someone hates another person and hits him with a fist and he dies, it is murder. In such cases, the avenger must put the murderer to death when they meet.
“But suppose someone pushes another person without having shown previous hostility, or throws something that unintentionally hits another person,
or accidentally drops a huge stone on someone, though they were not enemies, and the person dies.
If this should happen, the community must follow these regulations in making a judgment between the slayer and the avenger, the victim’s nearest relative:
The community must protect the slayer from the avenger and must escort the slayer back to live in the city of refuge to which he fled. There he must remain until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the sacred oil.
“But if the slayer ever leaves the limits of the city of refuge,
and the avenger finds him outside the city and kills him, it will not be considered murder.
The slayer should have stayed inside the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. But after the death of the high priest, the slayer may return to his own property.
These are legal requirements for you to observe from generation to generation, wherever you may live.
“All murderers must be put to death, but only if evidence is presented by more than one witness. No one may be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.
Also, you must never accept a ransom payment for the life of someone judged guilty of murder and subject to execution; murderers must always be put to death.
And never accept a ransom payment from someone who has fled to a city of refuge, allowing a slayer to return to his property before the death of the high priest.
This will ensure that the land where you live will not be polluted, for murder pollutes the land. And no sacrifice except the execution of the murderer can purify the land from murder.
You must not defile the land where you live, for I live there myself. I am the LORD, who lives among the people of Israel.”